107 – Don’t Say a Word

This movie, starring Michael Douglas as Nathan Conrad, a prominent psychiatrist as a man who must retrieve a number from a patient in order to save his adorable kidnapped daughter, probably should win some sort of award for Dumbest Movie Title. It ranks up there with Don’t Look in the Basement, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, and Don’t Tell Her It’s Me (all real titles). The title’s not terribly descriptive, but it fits in with the plotline itself, which is pretty faceless.

Douglas must be used to these roles by now, the domineering, I’m-in-charge, alpha male. He’s played a powerful lawyer (Disclosure), a powerful financial genius (The Game), a powerful drug czar (Traffic), and the powerful leader of the free world (The American President). He basically sleepwalks through this movie, phoning in a pretty lethargic performance that adds no nuance to the character.

In fact, the movie’s a lot like Mercury Rising, which starred Bruce Willis as a renegade FBI agent protecting an autistic boy who had broken a supersecret government code. Will Nathan get the code from his traumatized patient in time to save his girl’s life? With this type of movie, that question’s no more than pure rhetoric. If you’re at Point A and can see where the end of the movie (Point B) is, then the only way the movie can distinguish itself is to provide a gimmick. That gimmick is that the code that these evil bad guys (led by a superficially menacing Sean Bean) need is locked in the screwed-up mind of Elisabeth Burrows (newcomer Brittney Murphy), who isn’t autistic but is so traumatized by the murder of her father years ago that she hardly speaks to anyone and reacts violently when approached. On top of all of this, Nathan’s stock pretty wife Jessie (Skye McCole Bartusiak, looking like Sela Ward) is stuck in their apartment with a broken leg. (And you know, when a character has something slightly off-kilter about them, that quirkiness will play a role in the movie, somehow. It’s like when a guy has a lisp – and then it turns out that the bad guy has a lisp, too. These things are hardly ever put in for no reason, you see.)

Once we’ve established that the Bad Guys have the daughter and that the wife is stuck in bed with a cast, then we know Nathan must solve it on his own. To make sure, the Bad Guys tell him not to go to the cops. They don’t need to say this, though; the Hero never goes to the cops. Too dangerous. Who’d believe him? And so on. So our stalwart, prominent psychiatrist goes it alone, for only he may save the day. Snore.

Maybe it’s Douglas, and maybe it’s the shallowness of the supporting cast, but in so many of his movies the other actors seem to melt away. Sometimes it’s because he’s off the wall, a ham who doesn’t chew the scenary so much as swallow it hole and regurgitate it onto your TV. (It’s the Michael Douglas show! No wait; that was a different Mike Douglas.)

The wonderful thing about characters with mental issues is that you can make those problems do whatever the script requires, with no real nod to logic or cohesion. These characters can be manipulated to fit any plot stupidities, including the dopey actions of the main characters. Don’t Say a Word falls easily into this mold. And any movie that leans heavily on one gimmick isn’t much of a movie, unless the characterizations and performances are well above par for the genre. They’re not.

This is drivel best relegated to the bargain bins at Blockbuster. From start to finish, there’s not one true note to be found. Suspend your disbelief? You need to suspend it and then kick the chair out from underneath it. This movie doesn’t approach credibility; it’s a mere tourist in the land of reality.

Don’t Say a Word: 3


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